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Liberia’s Slow Onset Crisis

An EMMA Study
January, 2012

Between 1989 and 2003, Liberia was ravaged by two civil wars that left more than half of the population internally displaced and living as refugees. Communities were uprooted and much of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed. Since 2003, Liberia has been on a road to recovery, but significant problems remain. In 2010, contested elections in neighboring Côte d’Ivoire, and the violence that ensued, forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. As of July 2011, an estimated 153,000 refugees had crossed the border into Liberia, of whom 74,000 went to Grand Gedeh County.

This case study presents learning from an EMMA market assessment carried out in Liberia in April 2011, focused on imported rice and agricultural labor. The EMMA was designed to answer Oxfam's key questions concerning different intervention strategies and modalities.

For the rice market system, the study found that while some of the larger market actors had the capacity to respond to the increased demand caused by the influx of the refugees, local small wholesalers and retailers did not. Therefore, it concluded that cash transfers were appropriate in Zwedru town, where larger traders were located, but that alternative mechanisms for assistance should be used in other areas, in parallel with support to build local actors’ capacity in capital and transport. Oxfam subsequently implemented a combination of quite effective cash and in-kind programming based on this assessment.

On the other hand, many people, did not have the time to fully read and digest the EMMA methodology, findings and response recommendations. There has been a tendency to use the EMMA work as a justification for cash based initiatives, or to see the assessment as a cash feasibility study, without a full and systemic understanding of the constraints and possible harm that these interventions may have. Indeed, in Grand Gedeh, where there has been a shortage of labor as a key agricultural input, there have been cash for work interventions that have exacerbated these difficulties. Furthermore, Oxfam could have used the results of EMMA’s analysis of agricultural labor markets more effectively by finding ways for refugees to fill gaps in local labor capacity, for example by increasing cash grant amounts to host families so that they could engage hired labor. Finally, further analysis of the key agricultural input markets could have been extremely useful in assessing the best means to deliver the seeds and tools distributed as part of the emergency response.

Report authors: 
Carol Brady, Nanthilde Kamara
Download Report (1.07 MB pdf)